Saturday, March 10, 2007

DVD: Stranger than Fiction

• Will Ferrell's latest is surprisingly existential and shockingly good.

Genres: Comedy-drama
Director: Marc Forster
DVD released: Feb. 27, 2007
Cast: Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah
Verdict: &&&&

Like Groundhog Day and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Stranger than Fiction is a movie that tinkers with the nature of existence and creates something profound in the process. It's not a stretch to imagine Bill Murray in the role — the disaffected protagonist certainly fits the mold of the lead characters in Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers. However, Will Ferrell, who has a previous filmography as appealing as a forgotten, years-old fruitcake found at the back of a dark pantry, manages to shed his usual silly persona (the movie still has laughs, though) to convincingly portray a boring urbanite — IRS auditor Harold Crick, who hears a voice talking about him while brushing his teeth one morning. He gradually realizes that the voice is a narrator (Emma Thompson) and that he is a player in a narrative out of his control. Or is it? Aided by a literature professor (Dustin Hoffman), he eventually becomes aware that the voice is a real-world novelist (also Thompson) who ultimately kills off her central characters. He sets out to confront her, but not before falling in love with an anarchist baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) whom he audits as the voice begins to torment him. Emma Thompson is perfection as the narrator and novelist Kay Eiffel, and the narrative is one of the great pleasures of the movie. What sounds like a gimmick in the trailer is full of beautifully descriptive passages that cast Crick's boring existence in a different light as the omniscient voice precisely enunciates the tale of Crick (and his wristwatch, which becomes a pivotal character). It's wholly believable that these passages flow from the typewriter of an accomplished novelist, and Thompson is delightfully unhinged as the writer trying to keep the words flowing. As the movie forces the viewer to think about the value of a life versus the value of a great piece of art, a delicious anticipation builds for the inevitable climactic scenes. A superb supporting cast and vivid visuals, such as the occasional graphical user interface that reflects Crick's mathematical auditor's mind at work, serve to enhance an unexpectedly captivating movie that is unconventional, existential and highly recommended. // DVD notes // One deleted and one extended scene offer more of the funny book chat show featured in the movie. Featurettes are numerous and exhaustive, covering topics such as how they made that snazzy graphical user interface.

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